REVIEW OF JASON CRABB’S “LOVE IS STRONGER” ALBUM
Jason Crabb has come a long way since he left the Crabb Family. While Southern Gospel with the traditional four part harmony was the signature sound of his family group, Jason Crabb has taken steps in slowly alienating himself from following his family ipsissima verba. Like a teenager in search of his identity, Crabb has deliberately taken steps to carve for himself his identity apart from his pedigree. With his 2009 debut solo record he started to morph from traditional Southern Gospel music to straddling between the nebulous divide of country and pop. Though there was still the odd country story song ("Ellsworth"), a nod to the Gaithers ("Daystar") and his tribute to his own personal heritage ("Through the Fire"), the record was predominantly slick contemporary country pop. A Christmas album and a live recorded CD later, the metamorphism is complete with 2013's "Love is Stronger." This comes as no surprise as Rascal Flatts' Jay DeMarcus produced 6 of the tunes here. Just like the superstar country group Rascal Flatts who has had been threadbare as far as traditionalism is concerned, the DeMarcus-helmed songs borrow more cues from Tim McGraw than George Jones. With Ed Cash (Switchfoot and Chris Tomlin) handling the production chores for 3 cuts further takes Crabb down the Christian rock route. The only redeeming moments coming from Wayne Haun (Legacy Five and Greater Vision) who grounds the remaining 2 cuts in more earthy sounds.
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Granted the polish country pop contours of this disc, Crabb navigates himself quite well. If there's anything to be said about these 11 cuts, it is that Crabb has never been more himself: he shows a greater command over his vocals and he has never sounded more passionate. Album opener "Give" is saturated with all the contemporary country tropes: an irresistible hook, some blazing electric guitar at the bridge and some arena filling rock riffling, this track just screams "hit." One would not be surprised if this track were released to country radio. "Let Mercy Hold You,"though quite generic in terms of its lyrics, is a slow starter before building up to a rocking crescendo that is the perfect vehicle for Crabb's rasp tenor to soar. Lyrically the most searching song is the ultra catchy "Living Life Upside Down;" a track that challenges us about our often misplaced priorities. The vivid and illustrious examples of our selfishness and our abandonment of truth are convicting yet never condemning.
Nevertheless, the highlight of this disc is the ballads. If there's anything remotely similar to what the Crabb Family would have done, it's "There's Not a Crown Without the Cross." Detailing the time-worn theme that suffering makes us better Christians, Crabb has Michael English and Joyce Martin Saunders adding vocal layers of choral agreement to this Godly tune. Crabb goes for the vocal nine yards with his ceiling-reaching belting in the teased out cinema verite ballad "What the Blood is For." Title cut "Love is Stronger" may start off with Crabb and the piano, but this ballad slowly explodes with wailing guitars and pounding drums about the tenacity of love. It is kind of one of those light-hearted inspirational Hallmark-ish numbers only saved by Crabb's soaring vocals. Weighed with more gravitas is the piano-based"Satisfied" - a sensitive prayer of thanksgiving beautifully adorned with the intricate vignettes of the ways God cares for us.
However, in Crabb's calculated effort to shake off any hint of traditionalism and to appear contemporary, he has embraced a few duds. "Near" and "Morning" are just busy run-by-the-mill pop numbers that truly take away Crabb's vocal identity, making him sound like the average Joe Singer of contemporary Christian music. And "Love Wins" (which calls to mind Rob Bell's (in)famous book of the same name) is one too many vanilla inspirational ballads. "Love is Stronger," though not perfect, is a revealing effort. This CD really brings out the new man in Crabb - one who is confident when he rocks and yet provides the heart pabulum when he croons.
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